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Kenya Court Sentences Priest Convicted of Abuse To Preach on Sexual Crimes

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Kenya Court Sentences Priest Convicted of Abuse To Preach on Sexual Crimes

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — In a rare ruling, a Kenyan high court has sentenced a Catholic priest found guilty of assaulting a 16-year-old girl to spend the next three years preaching about the country’s sexual crimes law.

The Rev. Dominic Muli Nzioka, a priest who served a parish in Mivumoni, in the Archdiocese of Mombasa, was ordered by Justice Anne Ong’iinjo March 7 to educate his congregrants about the country’s Sexual Offenses Act.

The ruling came after Nzioka appealed a seven-year sentence issued last June by a magistrate’s court in the city of Mombasa. Ong’iinjo said she was setting aside that sentence, stipulating instead that in addition to probation, Nzioka will be required to give a sermon about the anti-sexual abuse law at least once a month. His compliance will be monitored by the priest-in-charge at his parish and his probation officer.

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According to news reports, Nzioka sent the teen a text in September 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, asking her to join him in his house. She later told the court that the priest had put alcohol in a coffee cup and handed it to her, before touching her inappropriately.

The Rev. Dominic Muli Nzioka. (Photo via MombasaCatholic.org)

“The appellant, having breached the COVID-19 protocols and the church regulations, that children are not allowed to enter the parish house, as well as defying the victim’s mother not to interact with her daughter, makes this court believe that the prosecution’s evidence has been proved beyond reasonable doubt,” wrote Ong’iinjo in her ruling.

“While on probation, the appellant is hereby ordered to sensitise his congregants about the Sexual Offences Act at one Sunday in a month. Upon the completion of the period under supervision, the parish priest and the probation officer will file a report in court to confirm compliance,” said the judge.

Shamsa Abubakar Fidhili, a peace mediator and community organizer in Mombasa, objected to the ruling, saying it was too lenient to deter other predators. “Religious leaders are supposed to be a safe haven for people to run to,” said Fadhili, the chairperson of the Mombasa Women of Faith Network, a branch of the Religious Council of Kenya.

On the social media platform X, a person posting as “The People’s Watchman” wrote, “I am looking for the photo of Dominic Muli Nzioka who was set free by Justice Anne Ong’iinjo after he was found guilty of defiling a minor. His photo should be everywhere so that we can keep our children safe from this … predator. Court and church protecting a rapist.”

The Rev. Henry Ndune, a priest in the Archdiocese of Mombasa, told Religion News Service that Catholic officials were also surprised at the sentence. “While the church has an elaborate canon law, a secular court is telling a priest what to preach,” he said.

Nzioka’s sentence has ignited a debate among some clergy whether a government court ought to be able to decide the contents of a sermon. Clerics told RNS that preaching needs to come freely from the heart.